Black and White TV, Take II

A few weeks back I blogged about possible convergence in the viewing habits of blacks and whites.

Blog reader Devin Reams has done some further research.

Devin writes:

I saw the entry on Nielsen’s black and white households and viewers habits. I decided to do some “research” of my own.

And by research I mean jumped on Facebook. If you haven’t yet, you may find it interesting to see the self-declared favorites between two schools. For example, I can use the ‘Pulse’ feature to see which shows are listed the most on all the school’s profiles.

CU Boulder (very white) and Spelman (traditionally black female) yields the following:

1. Family Guy
2. Grey’s Anatomy
3. South Park
4. Entourage
5. Simpsons
6. Friends
7. Sex and the City
8. Lost
9. Nip/Tuck
10. Seinfeld

1. Girlfriends
2. America’s Next To…
3. Grey’s Anatomy
4. Family Guy
5. Desperate Housewives
6. Law and Order SVU
7. Martin
8. The Cosby Show
9. A Different World
10. The Boondocks

Only two shared out of ten.

I love the combination of creativity and effort that Devin put into this research. The results Devin found look more like what we report in our book and I have seen in the past than the recent numbers from USA Today.

Hats off to Devin.

Cyril Morong

That's a great list. Glad to see it. Hope Devin does more on that


I'm sure Spelman has a specific allure for specific African Americans. Other choices:

Prairie View A&M (Same deal, only Public)
1. Girlfriends
2. Martin
3. Family Guy
4. America's Next To...
5. The Boondocks
6. Simpsons
7. CSI
8. Grey's Anatomy
9. Jamie Foxx
10. Fresh Prince

Can anyone think of a predominantly black university that doesn't have a "historically black" label?


A question because I don't have facebook access.

How about UC Irvine? I went to UCSD, but we always thought of UC Irvine as a predominantly Asian school.


God bless the Facebook - I wondered whether that data would hold under deeper scrutiny - The results are quite interesting


Can anyone think of a predominantly black university that doesn't have a “historically black” label?

Possibly some of the City University of New York campuses.

Getting back to TV viewership, I'm surprised to see Family Guy ranking so high at a mainly female college. I'd always thought of the show as something which appeals largely to men.


There are two ways to explain Family Guy's popularity running counter to your expectations.

1. FG's rapid-fire popculture riffs are designed best to entertain those deeply immersed in the effluvia of mass culture. Young people, male and female, are often more in tune with culture's trends than others and therefore appreciate its humor.

2. As a man, and huge fan of girls are as dumb as grown men!


Can it be that we're more 'colored' by the color of our skin in our youth than later in life? If that were true, it would explain the differentiated results at least a little.


Responding to Four...

I think that younger people feel their ethnicity more strongly as it is one of the few outwardly visible characteristics that allow you to define your identity. You might classify it as "ethnic fundamentalism, as it shares some traits (with religious fundamentalism), namely that you are blacker/more Albanian/more whatever than even your native countrymen. with religion of course, this translates somewhat differently. Also of course, when younger you may not have the same responsibilites (or sense of responsibility) as an older person of the same background, thus leaving yourself more resources to devote to your idealistic persona.

Hope I made enough sense to communicate a difficult concept with brevity.


That was pretty much what I suggested. Ethnic groups converge with age as variables other than ethnicity becomes more important. Also, we're influenced by a more diverse set of people and experiences and change our behaviour due to that.

Hence, college kids on Facebook watch very different TV shows depending on ethnicity, but in general (as seen in USAToday) different ethnic groups aren't very different at all in their TV habits.


The stats for UC irvine as requested are as follows:

1. Family Guy
2. Grey's Anatomy
3. Simpsons
4. Friends
5. Lost
6. 24
7. House
8. Sex and the City
9. Project Runway
10. South Park

I think that it is very likely that we will see some similarities between ethnically different schools when it comes to tv viewing, but that the big differences are more likely to come from male vs. female.

Morehouse, a historically black and all male school located in Atlanta (essentially the male counterpart to Spelman) has the following top 10 TV programs

1. Family Guy
2. The Boondocks
3. Martin
4. Simpsons
5. Sportscenter
6. The Cosby Show
7. Fresh Prince
8. Law and Order
9. 24
10. South Park

This school has 4 shows in common with Spelman and 3 in common with Colorado.


Yeah, following up on The Fikus (reply #10), a glaring problem with Devin's data is that he introduced a confounding factor: gender. The two schools he chose may have differed greatly in their racial distribution, but they also differ greatly in their gender distribution.

Notice, for example, that the #1 rated show at the all-female Spelman, "Girlfriends", doesn't even appear on the top ten at the all-male Morehouse.


Just looking at someone's self-reported favorite program is not an accurate view of what they are actually watching on a day-to-day basis. Most college students are extremely busy people and don't really watch that much television. When they do watch, it's generally in later hours of the day--say, 10pm-2am. All of these factors make college students pretty different from the general population. (In fact, unless Nielsen has recently made a major change, college dorms and the like were not part of the Nielsen sample.)

Also, shows like "Monday Night Football" aren't listed here, because, I'm guessing, when someone asks you what your favorite show is, you don't generally list a sporting event.


Many of the 'black' shows on these top 10 lists are not first run shows anymore (cosby, fresh prince, martin). As popular as syndicated reruns might be, the top 10 shows for ratings/ad revenue will be prime time shows. To me, the list of popular shows at mostly black universities suggest a market opportunity for new programs featuring black actors.

Devin Reams

I admit that I had picked a school as far different from CU as possible, hence Spelman. It obviously introduces different variables but so does the Facebook data itself. Is everyone at the school on Facebook? Does everyone report a TV show? If they do, is it just a few of their favorites, top favorites, all the TV they watch? Each person uses the profiles differently so, as long as we understand that, we can still try to decypher the results, right?

I do find self-declared viewing to be more telling than anything else which is why I looked at Facebook. What I watch is an extension of who I am, what I'm interested in, etc. That's where we find the more interesting results.

But, you make a good point. A quick search at CU found only 37 students listing 'Monday Night Football' (11 female, 26 male).

Insightful discussion. :-)


Also, as an avid facebook user, i can report that theres a probably another methodological problem with using these stats.

a) a lot of people dont list the shows they watch. you might have a specific type of person who lists. thus, you lose the random sampling that makes Nielsen respected.
b) the listing mechanism is based on the assumption that people use commas between their shows. thus, if i write "24 and lost and alias, scrubs", it does not count towards 24, lost, and alias, but as an individual show called "24 and lost and alias", and a separate show "scrubs". I have tons of friends who dont use the 'comma separated values' paradigm, so to speak.
c) theres a difference between the shows you watch, and the shows you want your friends/acquiantances/random people to think you watch. A guy on a football team who enjoys grey's anatomy is not going to list it, whereas if he were a nielsen viewer, his viewership would be listed.



Just a comment as to some other predominantly black schools with boths genders that might be worth examining are Howard University and Morgan State.


I did a similar search for schools here in Nashville, TN. Fisk University is a predominantly black university, as is Tennessee State University. Comparing those to Vanderbilt University and Belmont University, predominantly white schools, brought about nearly the same results as Devin found. While there are some innate issues with the study (sampling, grammar, etc.) the results remain fairly consistent. Is the samples of the Nashville universities, there were only 2 or 3 shared shows between the demographic.

Cyril Morong

yahelc said

"theres a difference between the shows you watch, and the shows you want your friends/acquiantances/random people to think you watch. A guy on a football team who enjoys grey's anatomy is not going to list it, whereas if he were a nielsen viewer, his viewership would be listed."

If this true, that people are lying a little, I think that is interesting, too. Why would different groups tell different lies about what they watch?


i love those shows! good lists

Cyril Morong

That's a great list. Glad to see it. Hope Devin does more on that